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Firth in, best dressed

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Last night Colin Firth spoke to a packed Cremorne Theatre at Brisbane’s QPAC, in an intimate Q&A with Sigrid Thornton, presented by the Equity Foundation. Clare Fletcher reports. Photos by Harry Saragossi

When there’s a seriously famous person within a certain radius, you can feel it. There’s a ripple of surreptitiously craned heads, hum of barely whispered “is that...?” There’s a heightened energy as mere mortals preen and wonder if they’ll have an encounter with this person who has loomed over them on cinema screens and now stands, diminished in stature but still emitting the faint glow of the preternaturally attractive, mere metres away.

Such was the energy last night when Colin Firth spoke to a packed Cremorne Theatre at Brisbane’s QPAC, in an intimate Q&A with Sigrid Thornton, presented by the Equity Foundation and supported by Screen Queensland. Firth had just landed in Australia as part of the shoot for The Railway Man, the adaptation of tortured Burma Railway veteran Eric Lomax’s memoir of the same name. Firth and co-star Nicole Kidman will continue filming in Ipswich this week after already shooting in Scotland and Thailand.For an audience of the acting fraternity it was a rare opportunity to hear a richly-awarded actor talk about the craft. Firth didn’t disappoint, with a discussion that was occasionally very technical but always enthralling. In person Firth was serene despite the way we all fluttered around him, polite, self-deprecating and, it must be said, very handsome. His everyman charisma and genuine warmth made the theatre seem even more intimate than it was.

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Thornton asked questions from Firth’s childhood, to his acting training and his experience. There was no shortage to draw on. Firth was candid and considered on everything from stage fright to stuttering, discussing recent roles in films like The King’s Speech (which won him an Oscar) and A Single Man (director Tom Ford “never gave notes”).  There were nods and murmurs of agreement when he spoke about the way acting is at once overrated (the “fetishism” of celebrity) and undervalued for the work that goes into a great performance.

Asked before the Q&A whether she would be bringing up the infamous wet shirt scene in Pride & Prejudice, Thornton was reluctant, thinking he would be tired of talking about it. But when she jokingly mentioned it in passing, Firth ran with it. Immediately the hum of hormones in the audience ratcheted up another notch.

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The thing about the wet shirt, it seems, is context. “I’ve tried it at home... nothing,” he said, to a roar of disbelieving laughter. “It’s just a damp piece of cloth.” The fact the scene has endured, Firth believes, is testament to the power of the narrative.

It was the kind of event you don’t see so often any more. No cameraphones, no social media, no media-media. A genuine star in a small theatre just talking about the craft. The fact that this was Firth’s only appearance in Australia speaks volumes about why he is a proud Equity member. “It connects me to some of the actors I look up to the most,” he said of Equity. The lucky few in the Cremorne last night would happily agree.

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